If the success of Flappy Bird has taught us anything, it’s this: difficult games are NOT niche. Rewards taste sweeter when the effort required is greater, so it should be no surprise that difficult games are often more rewarding when you win. When was the last time you basked in the glory of hard-fought victory?
Nowadays, difficult games are rare. Difficult games that are fun? Even rarer. But thanks to Steam, you can play these games without spending too much money. In terms of the ratio of price-to-glory, these games are the best value you’ll ever get. Are you ready to sweat?
Super Hexagon [$3]
Super Hexagon is the angriest $3 I’ve ever spent in my entire life. I’ve always considered myself to have better hand-eye coordination than the average gamer; if you think that about yourself, this game will surely smack you around and put you in your seat where you belong. It is one of the most humbling games in existence.
The premise of the game is simple: you’re trapped inside a sequence of concentric, collapsing hexagons and your goal is to dodge the walls as they fly towards you. The pattern of hexagons is semi-randomized – there are sections that always appear in the same pattern, but the order of sections is different every time.
It’s a simple game that’s meant for the most masochistic of gamers. For $3, it’s a steal. Want a deeper look at the game? Check out Andre’s review of Super Hexagon.
Warning: If you’re prone to epileptic attacks or susceptible to motion sickness, you may want to skip this game. In fact, I highly recommend that you walk away from it and never look back. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Don’t let the retro graphics of VVVVVV turn you off. This game has smooth controls, the gameplay is deceptively simple yet hard to master, and it won’t be long before you start tearing out your hair. Many consider it to be one of the greatest platformer games of the last five years. If you don’t play it, you’re missing out.
VVVVVV offers a unique twist on platforming gameplay: you can’t jump. Instead, your only action is that you can flip gravity upside-down. This is the only mechanic available to you for navigating around obstacles. With good timing and careful execution, that’s all you’ll need to reach the end.
If you want to climb an uphill battle, VVVVVV is a prime example of a game that does it well.
Ikaruga is a shoot-em-up game (also known as a “bullet hell” game) that’s widely regarded as one of the best in the genre. The game was released almost 13 years ago and many developers have produced harder shoot-em-ups since then, but I think it’s fair to say that Ikaruga played a pivotal role in propelling the popularity of bullet hell games.
The unique twist of Ikaruga is the concept of black and white. All bullets are either black or white and your ship can switch between black and white. Only bullets of the opposite color can destroy your ship, e.g. you can tank white bullets if your ship is white. In addition, hitting enemies with the opposite color inflicts double damage.
As you might expect, the entire game revolves around this idea of switching your ship’s color to maximize your safety and your damage output. It’s the perfect combination of hard and fun.
Super Meat Boy [$15]
Super Meat Boy has been the poster child for difficult games for a while now. It starts off simple enough but quickly ramps up the frustration to insane levels, so much so that you can find videos on YouTube of people
playing the game suffering through the game while screaming their heads off in rage. Yet even so, it’s all strangely addicting.
The fun of Super Meat Boy really comes down to two simple things: 1) the movement is slick and responsive so you know that every mistake was truly your own fault, and 2) the respawn after death is instant, which leaves no time for you to even consider quitting. Success is always just within reach, making it that much more infuriating when you fail.
But it’s a good kind of fury – the kind that floods your veins with endorphins when you finally succeed. And that’s why we play games like this, isn’t it?
“Dark Souls. ‘Nuff said,” said my friend when asked which game he considered to be the hardest. It’s rare to encounter an RPG that hits the player with unforgiving gameplay and harsh consequences, but Dark Souls does it and it does it well. How many controllers and keyboards have been smashed due to this game? The world will never know.
The great thing about Dark Souls is that it doesn’t compromise on lore or atmosphere. The dark tone of the world, the smart level design, and the deep mythology all come together as a coherent whole and the sharp difficulty is a natural result of what the game attempts to achieve.
Some say that Dark Souls is overrated, but there’s a reason why it generated so much hype. It was designed with a vision in mind and the developers delivered on that vision with flying colors. Despite its difficulty, it’s more than just “a difficult game.”
Difficulty is not confined by genre, theme, or platform. Difficulty has a place in every type of game out there and we ought to embrace it. It’s human nature not only to be challenged but also to overcome. These games are so satisfying because the effort required in playing them results in real accomplishments.
If you want to go beyond Steam, check out Dave’s thoughts on 7 of the hardest video games ever.
There are plenty of difficult Steam games that I wasn’t able to cover in this post. Which ones are your favorites? Or maybe these games were easier than you thought they’d be? Share with us in the comments!